Operator: Heathrow Express Headcode: 1T79 Route: PAD-HWV Class: Standard Seat: N/A Date: Monday 22nd February 2021
From Central London there are three ways of getting to Heathrow Airport by train: London Underground’s Piccadilly line, which is the slowest but cheapest; TfL Rail, which will eventually become the Elizabeth Line; and Heathrow Express, which runs non-stop from Paddington Station to the Heathrow terminals.
Originally operated as a joint venture between the British Airports Authority (BAA) and British Rail, the former took full ownership of the operations when British Rail was privatised. Since the start of operations in 1998, the service was operated by class 332s, however recently these have been retired as the service began to be operated by refurbished GWR class 387s on a Management Contract.
Pre-Covid, Heathrow Express operated a service every 15-minutes direct from Paddington to Heathrow Central and Heathrow Terminal 5, with the non-stop run between Paddington and the airport taking just 15-minutes. On the day of my journey, which I took as part of a work commitment, the service had been reduced to two and hour and even then, they were pretty empty.
GWR took over operation of the service on behalf of Heathrow Airport in 2018 and as part of the agreement has recently finished the refurbishment of part of its class 387 Electrostar fleet for dedicated operations on the Heathrow Express service. This has meant GWR can use its drivers on either the airport service or other Electrostar services, and also allows a reduction in costs by no longer maintaining a unique fleet for the airport services.
Twelve 387 units were refurbished, which included the installation of USB power sockets, extra luggage space, on-board Wi-Fi and TVs. Unfortunately, the latter can’t be used individually and play a mix of BBC News segments and Heathrow Express infomercials, with a constant stream of sound for the entire journey to the airport.
On-board there are two classes of travel, Standard and Business First, the latter of which is essentially first-class. Standard is laid out in the usual 2-2 configuration, with a mix of ‘airline style’ seats and groups of four set around tables. Business First is laid out in a 1-2 configuration with reclining seats and a bit more space, however given the short length of the journey there is no onboard service.
Every seat has access to both standard and USB power sockets, whilst Wi-Fi is included throughout the train. Overall, the refurbished 387s are slightly nicer, with slightly comfier seats, than their siblings on the GWR mainline services, however it is still very much a standard Electrostar interior. One noticeable difference to the rest of the 387 fleet is the increased amount of luggage capacity, with space for large suitcases in every carriage.
Personally, I wouldn’t bother paying extra for Business First, as from what I can tell the only benefits are more space and some free magazines/newspapers. Business First doesn’t gain you access to GWR first-class lounge at Paddington, and there is no additional service included on-board. The extra £7 for an anytime first single ticket (£32 compared to £25 for standard) doesn’t really seem worth it.
The 15-minute journey to the airport was uneventful and, after a short stop at Heathrow Central, we continued with the final five-minute run to Heathrow Terminal 5 where all Heathrow Express services terminate. Until Terminal 5 was opened in 2008, Heathrow Express served Terminal 4, however when the main services were diverted, a dedicated shuttle was introduced to connect Heathrow Central with Terminal 4.
In conclusion, the Heathrow Express services are comfortable and fast, however the cost is significantly more than the alternative TfL Rail service (£28 compared to £11.20). Although Heathrow Express is quicker (15 mins versus 28 to Heathrow Central), when TfL Rail becomes the Elizabeth Line and introduces direct services from the very centre of London, Heathrow Express may lose a good proportion of its customers. The new trains are comfortable, but again nothing special, and so the uniqueness of the Heathrow Express services is definitely eroding. Personally, unless I was running late, I wouldn’t bother paying the premium for Heathrow Express in future.
Lounge 0* Seat/Facilities 3* Food 0* Service 3* Punctuality 5*
Overall Rating 11/25 (read about my rating system here!)